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Sunderland’s current crop of players are playing with their hearts on their sleeves

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Whilst our current crop of players may not be the greatest to have pulled on a Sunderland shirt, they play with more heart than most have in the last 20 years.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy - Final 2021 - Wembley Stadium Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

It was a cup final like no other Sunderland have ever been involved in, and it was an even more unexpected result, because we actually got a long-awaited victory at Wembley.

Almost 48 years had passed since Bob Stokoe’s Sunderland defeated Division One side Leeds United. Seven visits to Wembley since had ended in seven defeats, as everyone and their dog liked to remind us before and during Sunday’s Papa Johns Trophy showpiece.

Watching the match unfold on TV inside an empty Wembley was bizarre, to say the least. It wasn’t the best performance from Sunderland, but the players who featured stepped up to the mark. There weren’t many clear-cut chances, but the pass from McGeady and the finish from Gooch were worthy enough to win any football match.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy - Final 2021 - Wembley Stadium Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

It was important to not underestimate our opponents, and we were right to do so. Tranmere played some good stuff and, on another day, some of their crosses into the box would have landed bang on the money. As it was, Sunderland’s makeshift backline and keeper stood firm to keep yet another clean sheet.

Everything about the final, from the build-up to the trophy ceremony, was very different to what we would have wanted; for the obvious reasons.

On Saturday night, I didn’t feel as buzzed for the final as I’d hoped. This was the same on Sunday morning, but gradually as kick-off approached the excitement came. This weekend was obviously never going to reach the same atmosphere as that of the 2019 final, but reflecting on memories of that weekend helped to at least create the image of what we can do as fans when we come together.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy - Final 2021 - Wembley Stadium Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

The win at Wembley would have been incredible with 40,000 beautiful Mackems, but seeing all the pictures and videos of Sunderland fans around the globe celebrating the win has been about the next best thing. Our fans are incredible, but obviously, you all already knew that.

The trophy win is great for the new regime at Sunderland. It has been a whirlwind four months at the club, with a clear out across the board. To win a trophy in such a short space of time, regardless of what that trophy is or which international pizza franchise sponsor that trophy, is a huge step forward for this new era of SAFC.

However, and perhaps most importantly, the win at Wembley was a major moment for Sunderland fans everywhere.

For far too long, we have seen an endless wave of charlatans and frauds come into our club and cripple it. Millions of pounds have been drained from our club by people who have left us in worse shape than they found us.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy - Final 2021 - Wembley Stadium Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

Whilst our current crop of players may not be the greatest to have pulled on a Sunderland shirt, they play with more heart than most have in the last 20 years. We have players who get, or are starting to get, what we as fans want at our club.

With this group of players, promotion has never looked more likely.

Sunderland AFC have been moving in the wrong direction for years now. The 1-0 win at Wembley feels like a golden moment right now, hopefully, we will look back on the Papa John’s Trophy win as the springboard for better times.